Fifth Ranked Michigan State will travel to Kinnick Stadium this weekend to take on the eighteenth ranked Iowa Hawkeyes. MSU is coming off of a dramatic 4th quarter comeback victory against Northwestern, while Iowa is coming off of a gut-wrenching loss at home to Wisconsin. This game is very, very important to both teams, as the Spartans sit atop the Big Ten standings as the lone undefeated team, where as Iowa is tied for second place, with four other teams with one loss. This game could really decide the Big Ten title, as this will be the Spartans toughest remaining game on the schedule. A win would them the inside track towards the title and the possibility of an undefeated season. Even if MSU does not go undefeated, there will still be the possibility of a BCS berth to the Rose Bowl, something the Spartans have not achieved since 1990. There will be three keys to the game this week that will help MSU go on the road and come away with a victory.
The first will be to get off to a quick start. Nothing takes the crowd out of a big game more than scoring first, or not letting the home team score quickly. We have seen MSU struggle in the first half of the last two games and this cannot happen against the Hawkeyes. Iowa is too good of a team to fall behind against, as it will be very difficult, in a hostile environment, to come back late in the game. Second, Michigan State must continue to force the opposition into turnovers. The Spartans have been able to force twenty turnovers this year, good for third in the Big Ten. They are also plus nine in the turnover margin category, in leading the Big Ten in interceptions at twelve. The Spartans need timely turnovers, and as we have seen throughout the year, they are more than capable of producing them. Finally, Michigan State must improve on their third down efficiency this week. They are ranked 8th in the Big Ten, which is surprising, considering they are still undefeated with a statistic like this one. Don’t get me wrong, the Spartans make plays on third down when they have to, but this percentage must go up in order for MSU to have any chance of winning this game on the road, against a quality opponent such as the Hawkeyes.
When Michigan State has the ball: MSU has slowed down a bit in the run game and it will be difficult to get it going this week against a Hawkeye defense that only gives up 92 rushing yards a game, good for 2nd in the Big Ten. It may come down to Kirk Cousins taking the game over again this week. He played brilliantly last week, throwing for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. He may have to be even better this week, as the Spartans will have to deal with two stud ends for Iowa, Adrian Clayborn and Mike Daniels. These two standouts have combined for 14 tackles for a loss and 5 sacks on the year. MSU must be able to contain these defensive ends, which will allow Cousins to throw the ball down the field. If WR’s B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell can continue to get open, it could be a long day for a Hawkeye pass defense that gives up over 205 yards per game.
When Iowa has the ball: Michigan State will have to continue to get pressure on the quarterback this week, considering Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi is first in the Big Ten in pass efficiency and third in passing yards. He is very a very accurate passer and one of the best leaders as a quarterback in the nation. I look for the front seven of the Spartans to continue to play well, as they are second in the Big Ten with 18 sacks. This group keeps improving on a weekly basis, shown by the 7 sacks they had last week against Northwestern. Not only will they have to be great against the pass this week, but the run as well. Hawkeye RB Adam Robinson averages over 105 yards a game on the ground, good for 4th in the Big Ten.
Linebackers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, a combined 121 tackles, should be up for the challenge, considering last week they did not tackle very well.
I don’t need to tell everyone about the importance of this game. Michigan State is not only playing for a Big Ten Title, but also to avenge the heartbreaking final second loss to the Hawkeyes last season. This could be a low scoring game, considering both defenses only give up less than eighteen points a game. I look for this contest to be a typical smash mouth Big Ten showdown, with the Spartans making more big plays in the end…
Michigan State 24 Iowa 21
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Written by David Lesmeister